Thursday, October 25, 2018

Brian's Terrible Race Photos, 2018 Edition: Runner's World Half Marathon

Over 9 months pregnant and clearly in terrible pain, the lizard man shuffles back to its lair for another year of slumber.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Race Report: 2018 5unner's World 5K and Half Marathon

What do I say about these races? 

Oh yeah, hills.

I'll be honest, like most of my running stories, this is one of those things that seems like a good idea at the time.  I'd just had another great time at Shamrock.  I'd signed up for the marathon.  I'd been running more than I'd been running in years.

And then, summer.

Summer.  The season I used to look forward to has become the bane of my running existence.  This was not the hottest summer.  I could usually find temperatures in the 60s or low 70s.  With 100% humidity.  At 7am.  It sucked.  It was gross.  I'm not as skinny as or as tough (those two concepts are unrelated, but they both relate to my tolerance of heat) as I used to be, and I suffered.  Due to weather, bad luck, and just an uncommonly busy schedule in September, I just didn't nail the long runs like I usually do.  My longest training run was 8 miles, on the first cool Saturday of the year, one week before the hilliest half marathon I would ever run. (Creepy Foreshadowing Music).

The Runner's World Half & Festival seems to be the official name of the event, and they have a great variety of races over the weekend:

  • Friday night -- 3.8 mile trail run (we did not participate in this)
  • Saturday -- 5K followed by a 10K
  • Sunday -- Half Marathon.

For those of you into multi-race challenge events, they've got a good thing going here.  To do all four is called the Grand Slam. You get a quarter-zip pullover for it.  To do the 5K, 10K, and Half is the Hat Trick.  Brilliantly, you get a hat.  To do the 5K and 10K is the five and dime, and you get socks.

Doing the 5K and Half is a big fat tub of nothing, and that's exactly what I did.

Your HQ for the Festival is the SteelStacks compound in Bethlehem, PA, not far from Runner's World HQ in Emmaus.  (Hopefully that remains now that it's been purchased by Hearst.)  This provides a scenic and somewhat convenient center of events.  Scenic because they've...well, not renovated but used the decaying buildings of the old steel mill and turned them into a haunting and strangely beautiful backdrop to a multi-purpose event space.  Can you tell I'm a marketing writer?  No. Ok, carry on, then.

But anyway, all 3 of the road races start at the SteelStacks and head eastward from SteelStacks and head toward the Fahey Bridge, and they all end with a long loop around the ArtsQuest/SteelStacks compound via Sands Boulevard (adjacent to the local casino resort) with a finish in the center of SteelStacks.  The main difference in the races is how much time you spend north of the Lehigh River.

The 5K is not flat, but its biggest hill is still within the first mile, a steep climb right after the Fahey Bridge and then an equally steep descent.  It was here that I got my best advice of the weekend, a father saying to his probably 10ish old son, "We're going to go downhill now.  Don't try to speed up, just let gravity do the work and rest.".  Although the advice wasn't meant for me, I tried to follow it. 

My goal was to take this race relatively easy, since I knew I was undertrained for both the distance and hills the following day.  With that in mind, I tried to not to push myself. I succeeded, finishing in 35:36, which is quite a bit slower than my normal 5K training run finish times.  That was a little disappointing, given that I'm most often at 32 or 33:something, and it was a cool day, which usually makes me faster (#fasterinthecold).  Of greater concern was how tired my legs felt. 

I don't have anything bad to say about the race itself.  The scenery is interesting and the early location of its tough make this a course anyone can enjoy.  It wasn't my finest hour as a runner, but I was happy with it.

Half Marathon
I'm going to skip ahead of some things that I'll come back to later and just say that I woke up the next morning at the Overlook Hotel in complete dread.  I did not want to run the half.  I really, seriously contemplated telling my wife "Let's go home.  I'm not ready for this.  This is stupid.".  I've never been this scared before a half, even my first.  I was really having trouble getting my nerves and stomach to calm down that morning.

But, once the race started, I felt ok.  Stronger than I had during the 5K, and that strength just stayed with me longer than I had any right to expect it to.  I paced myself smartly and ran a careful race, trudging up the uphills and speeding up on the flats and downhills, and I felt great up until about the 10K mark, good up to about 8, struggling till 10, and then basically a mass of gelatinous goo for most of the last 3.1, the exception being a long, steep downhill just before mile 11.

I'll take it!

 I'm still about the same 40-minutes slower than my old PRs that I was at Shamrock, this was one of those unexpectedly very good races that I magically pull out of my you-know-where occasionally.  I'd heard all weekend that this course was hilly.  And it was very hilly.  But I ran 10 miles of it before I needed to start mixing in increasing amount of walking. I credit 3 things:

1. The cold:  I love running in the cold.  There's got to be some formula that converts hot miles into cold miles.   If there's not, I just invented it.  Let's call it "Brian's First Law of Thermodynamics", which states that every hot, humid mile equals 2 cold miles.  MH=2(MC).  You'll be quizzed later.  This was a raw, windy morning in the low 40s. The kind of weather that makes running blissful and standing waiting to run miserable.  I'm the idiot that used to stand in the Orange corral at the Philly half in a tank top, shorts, and light gloves in 35 degrees.  Now, at least I wear a light crumple-up jacket, which I wore till mile 4.

2.  The free advice I got from the dad.  Some of these hills were killers.  But, what goes up, must come down.  I've never ran a race that had the long, steep downhills like this one did, where I could rest and let gravity do the work.  As tough as the uphills were, I think these downhills let me run more of the race then I might have been able to on a completely flat course.

3. Crowd support and Bethlehem. Bethlehem is a beautiful old town, and this race is a great way to see its historic downtown as well as a lot of its neighborhoods, and people came out to cheer in droves. Both things distract from how most of the race seems to be uphill.

I'd like to especially give a shout-out to the Sub 30 Club, a group of people dedicated to supporting each other through their running adventures.  To make a long story short, the Sub 30 Club started as an online support group with RW writer Ted Spiker, who was attempting to train his way to sub-30 minute 5k.  It's become much more than that, a tight fraternity of runners who cheer for each other along the course, encourage each other in training, and make sure that no one finishes last alone and no one feels alone on the course or at the event.  There's always volunteers left to run in with other club members, including Jeff, who pushed out-of-breath me to a faster finish.  My wife's been a member of the club virtually for a couple years, and I just joined recently.  Check it out on Facebook. You'll be glad you did.  We're huge introverts and they made us feel very welcome.

I hit the 10-mile mark right at two hours.  I knew if I kept my walking pace up I should be good for under 2:45, but since there were some downhills, I was hoping I could beat my time from Shamrock.  I just didn't have quite enough in the tank, and came in at 2:40:03, which I am very, very happy with.  As I checked my results on line, my 1:59:33 from Philly in 2010 shows up as "other races".  Like this, that was a better-than-expected result that seemed to come from nowhere.  I'm equally proud of and happy with both. 

Throughout the race, I amused myself by thinking of the really cocky things I was going to say to Chris when I finished.  Should I quote my favorite speech from Lord of the Rings?  Butcher some Hamilton lyrics?  Drop some mad rhymes?  In the end, I was too incoherent to do anything.  I tried to make a funny funny face for the finish line cameras, and my chin muscles cramped up.  Oops.

I have mixed feelings about the event.  On the place side, the races are great.  What else would you expect from Runner's World?  The course management is phenomenal, adequate water and aid stations, great volunteers, and excellent crowd support.

What's negative is just that this is a race you have to drive to, and that makes it a little inconvenient.  I'm comparing it to Shamrock, Philly, AC (which I didn't run), Baltimore, Wildwood, and Love Run, all of which we stayed locally and can walk to the race.  We stayed a little outside Bethlehem, since there was no room at the inn (wakka wakka wakka), but the start isn't walkable from most hotels in the area. 

I also expected more from the expo.  It's not the biggest race or the biggest town, but Runner's World IS running. I was hoping to be able to both load up on Runner's World swag and buy the things I'd forgotten (Sports beans in my case).  The pasta dinner was fun and the food was good, but I'd have liked to hear more from the RW staff or perhaps a VIP runner.  I've heard that Bart Yasso (who is as nice as everyone says he is) has brought the house down in previous years.

That doesn't change the fact that is race series is fun.  The camraderie of runners makes it fun.  The restaurants and breweries of Bethlehem (Fegley's Steelworkers' Oatmeal Stout, trust me on this) make it fun.  The Sub-30 Club makes it fun.  We probably won't do this every year, but this is a race series I'll definitely be willing to come back to.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Race Report: 2018 Love Run Half Marathon, Philadelphia

My wife is a member of Half Fanatics, a ridiculous group that, along with its sister organization Marathon Maniacs, encourages people to run long races all the damn time and provides a network of support for members at those races.

I wanted to join it, too.

The "easiest" ways to join the lowest level of Half Fanatics is to run two half-marathons in 16 days or three half marathons in 90 days.  They have to be official races, not me running around Manchester by myself, so logistically this can be a little challenging when you live in the middle of nowhere.  My wife had previously qualified a few years ago (I'm too lazy to look it up) by running Shamrock and then Love Run in Philadelphia a week later.  The two races don't always line up like this, since the Love Run is sometimes moved to avoid Easter, but this year they did.  Well, ok.  Sign me up.

The perfectly cromulent race expo was held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.  You get a decent amount of stuff for this race:  A tech shirt, a commemorative mug...and well, I guess that's it. But what more do you expect? But it was nice expo, with a decent selection of vendors and representation of other races, and the opportunity to win free prizes from CGI Racing, the event's organizer.  My wife won last year's mug, and I won a pair of Love Run gloves.  Score.

The highlight of the expo for me was saying hi to Bart Yasso, "the Mayor of Running", who was representing the Philadelphia Marathon/Half Marathon/Rothman 8k, Philly's big fall running event.  I've briefly met Bart, the former Chief Running Officer of Runner's World, before and he's a nice guy with lots of great running stories, but I'm an awkward introvert who didn't really know what to say.  This time, Bart saw immediately that I'd run Shamrock the week before (since I was wearing all my stuff to prove I was savvy half marathon veteran), as he also had, and we had a nice conversation for a few minutes about that while he was supposed to be signing people up for Philly, before he graciously posed for a picture with me.  Thanks, Bart!

After the expo, my wife and I went to dinner at Pizzeria Vetri, a slightly fancy pizza place near Rittenhouse Square (Does anyone else watch "Timeless" and now think of "Rittenhouse" as evil?).  We were tired, so we stopped for one drink at the hotel bar and went back to the room to lay our stuff out.

As I mentioned in my previous post, when I registered for this in the fall, I'd had the foresight to put "Dallas Sucks" on my bib, perfect since I was running in my Eagles shirt and the Eagles had actually won the Superbowl for once.  This was already the best race ever...until the race part started.

Race Day
Let's just get this out of the way.  It was fucking cold.  It was overcast and windy and even when our corral got underway at about 8:00 a.m. (half an hour after gun time), I never warmed up.  

The course itself is similar to the Philly Half, except it doesn't go as far east into Old City but then makes up for it by going farther west into Fairmount Park.  Like the Philly Half, which to be fair I haven't run since 2010, I enjoyed the Center City part of the race more than the park part of the race, even though my Garmin was frustratingly useless among the tall buildings.  What makes this race frustrating once you get out into the park is, like the Rocky Run 10K we ran a few years ago, it's almost all an out and back along MLK except for a detour around Strawberry Mansion.  It's not that Fairmount Park, along the banks of Schuykill, isn't pretty.  It's just that for the whole "out" you're watching everyone going faster cruise to the finish.  Still, the course as a whole is flat and fast, and I think if your goal is to push for a 13.1 PR, this is probably a good option.  We were not gunning for a PR, bringing me to my main criticism of the race.

The race  website states that is has a 3.5 hour time limit.  Futher down, at the bottom of the page, it clarifies that this 3.5 hour time limit starts from gun time -- the start of the race for the fastest participants.  This means that the people in the last corral, who are placed there because we entered the longest projected finishing times, get considerably less time.  

The website claims: "We have factored in the time it will take for the last corrals to cross the start line. Please plan your training accordingly."


Total Bullshit.

We got swept off the course before mile ten, told by the police to move to the sidewalk.  Garbage.  We were able to cross a timing mat at mile 10, where we recorded a chip time of 2:38:49. At this point, our projected finishing time was 3:28.  We did end up falling a little bit short of 3:30, so if we had gotten swept much closer to the finish line, this would have been understandable, but it is abundantly clear that the race organizers did not "factor in the time it will take for the last corrals to cross the start line".  

To their credit, the finish line was still open when we crossed, and there were still plenty of medals, food, and even a beer tent with Yards Brawler(we've seen no sign of a beer tent on my wife's two previous Love Runs).  It was overall a good, enjoyable event from the expo to the finishing party, but an overly aggressive sweeper puts a huge damper on the race.  If this is standard practice for race managers, it's a shitty one.  I know it makes sense to put the fast people first so they have a clear course.  I myself complain every year that Kelly Shamrock 5K doesn't have a more organized corral or pace sign system.  But it makes just much sense to realize that it's the people in the last corral that need the full time limit much more.  

Would I run it again?  Not sure.   The Love Run has a lot of positives: Good expo, decent swag, good merchandise selection, good course (despite my personal gripe about the out and back), finisher party with free beer, good location with lots of things to do and good places to eat.

But poor race management potentially outweighs all of that.

 (Cheesesteak Eggrolls at the Continental)

Brian's Terrible Race Photos, 2018 Edition: The Love Run

When I registered for this race last fall, I got to pick out a custom name/nickname/saying/whatever for my race bib.  Rather than just put "Brian" like a normal person, I put "Dallas Sucks".

The race was in Philly, after all, and I'm a huge Eagles fan. By happy coincidence the Eagles won their first Superbowl (did you hear?) in the intervening months.

I had totally forgotten that I did this, and when I picked up my packet in the post-superbowl 52 world, I couldn't stop laughing.  I wanted to make sure that my hilarious bib got in race photos, so as I approached the photographer, I unzipped my jacket like a flasher...and well, I guess the wind got a hold of me and resulting parachute effect makes me look even rounder than I am.

I also hate when I got caught flat-footed in the picture.  Well, in this one it looks like I'm just standing in the middle of road.  Maybe I was.  Maybe I was.

Reaching the Finish LIne is always cool, and my wife and I were very happy and relieved.  I'm glad this awkward high-five was captured on film.  She was on my left.  Why didn't I just use my left hand?  I'm left handed, goddammit.

There were good pictures, too.  But who cares about those?

Race report on the Love Run coming later this week.  Maybe.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Race Reports: 2018 TowneBank Shamrock 8k and Anthem Shamrock Half Marathon

We skipped Shamrock two years since I made my first visit for the marathon in 2011:  I didn't want to go down in 2014 since I was slated for surgery and grumpily limping through races, and last year we didn't go down as my wife recovered from complications from a broken ankle.

After so many trips down, Virginia Beach feels like home.  It was great to get back to Doughboys, Il Giardino, and Maple Tree Pancake House.  It was great to see Neptune towering over the boardwalk.  It was nice to get Duck Donunts again.  It was great to find new places, too, like the Military Aircraft Museum, Green Flash, Smartmouth Pilot House, and Home Republic Brewpub.  

But mostly, it's great to run almost completely flat races and with big free beer parties afterwards. 

TowneBank Shamrock 8K

I've said it before, and I'll say it again.  This race is a blast.  It's an almost completely flat through downtown and oceanfront Virginia Beach, and I've had some of my best races here.  I hate-ran it in 2012, when I was supposed to be running the marathon again, and PR'd with a 41:10 that I'll be hard-pressed to come within 10 minutes of.  I've never approached that again, but I've had relatively good races there.  In the low 50s in 2013 and 2016, while in 2015 it was the only race that Spring where I wasn't having a relapse of compartment syndrome.  And, from a beer-per-mile standpoint, the 8K is really your best value of the weekend. 

I came in this year with a 57:04, an 11:29-minute mile pace.  I couldn't make up my mind about whether to press hard for a sub-55, or take it easy because I was going to push myself for a 2:30 half marathon the next day, and I really didn't do either.  As a result, I had a time I was slightly disappointed in for the 8K and was also a little gassed for the half the next day.  But, I enjoyed every second of that 57:04, especially since I was clad in the logo of the Superbowl LII Champion Philadelphia Eagles, and that's really what counts.

My only mild criticism -- and J&A Racing knows what they're doing -- is that it just takes FOREVER for the corrals to go off.  It's a 7:45 start time, but our corral (the last, to be fair), didn't go off until 8:30.  

The post-race party was fun, as usual, and we spent the rest of the day at the Military Aircraft Museum, with a quick pre-dinner stop at Green Flash Brewery.  Both great.

Anthem Shamrock Half Marathon

My best half marathon is 1:59:10, back in 2010, when I was young and dreamed of glory.  Since then, I'd ran the Wild Half in 2015 and Shamrock in 2016, never getting back under 3 hours.  I don't particularly care to speed train enough to worry about beating my old PRs, qualifying for Boston (which is nevah going to happen), or any speed metrics.  But, I wanted to see how fast I could finish this just so I could think about whether it was feasible to take another shot at the marathon.  I was a 5-hour marathoner when I was in my mid-30s and right at the middle of the bell curve in about every distance except the marathon.  Compared to my other distances, I was a bad marathoner.  I'm not shy about that.  But, I wanted to test whether a 5:00-5:30 marathon was feasible.  I just don't want to think about being out there for 6+ hours.  

With that in mind, my goal was a 2:30.  I thought that a perfect 12-minute mile pace would bring me in around 2:36, and I've been running pretty consistently at sub-11 minute miles, that I could bank some time and finish in about that.

The short answer is I was a little slower than I hoped, at 2:38, but that I'm also pretty happy with that.  I paced myself well and consistently, and ran the whole race until mile 11, when I needed to mix some in, even though I'd run an 8K the day before and my long runs had only gotten up to 8-miles.  

With that in mind, I've never hurt so much after a half, even when I ran at the edge of death to that 1:59.  I needed considerable help from the railing to get down off the boardwalk onto the beach, and when I tried to sit down in a corner of the party tent with a bowl of Murphy's Irish Stew, my legs cramped up and I had to stand back up.  (The very kind runners near me were concerned, but I was fine once I got some food in me).  After some soup, some chips, 4 Yuenglings (The new Golden Pilsner is ok.  It's like a better version of Bud Light, honestly.) I felt much better.And after a post-race trip to Smartmouth Brewing's Pilot House and Home Republic, I was feeling very good indeed.

For the first time, I officially scored a Dolphin Challenge medal, and J&A Racing did a great job as usual with everything.  It was bittersweet to leave Virginia Beach with our customary Maple Tree breakfast, but as I've already said, we'll happily be back in 2018.

My only complaint is that Town E. Bear was not as heavily involved in the post-race festivities as he was in 2016.  I find Town E. Bear hilarious, especially when I'm in a big tent drinking, and especially when a bear mascot gets up on stage and dances.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Well, That Was Stupid

For the second week in a row, my wife and I ran a half marathon.  This time it was the Love Run in Philadelphia.  The main thing about it was that it was cold.

I don't hurt as bad as I did after Shamrock, but my left leg is currently a mostly useless appendage that I'm kind of just dragging around.  But, I qualified for Half Fanatics, so there's that. (Wife is already a member.)

Race reports for Shamrock and Love Run are coming, if you're into that kind of thing.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Ok, So We're Doing This

I think it's finally time to take another shot at the marathon. As I was at mile 12 on Sunday, laboring, all I could think was "I'm glad I'm not running the full". But, I said the same thing in 2010, when I ran the half at Philly, and I ran two marathons in 2011. I'm slower than I was then. It'll hurt. It'll be slow. I'll probably complain a lot. But it's time to put 7+ years of failed comeback attempts to rest.

And the 8k is my favorite race ever. I can't skip the 8k. That just wouldn't do. No, not at all.